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Published: August 10th 2007
Our early start was well worth it this morning as we made a trip to Chengdu’s Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. The best time to see the Pandas is in the morning so that you hopefully catch a glimpse of them before they sleep for the rest of the day or just go off and hide. The Centre is about 30 minutes outside Chengdu and is world famous for its ground breaking techniques in breeding Giant Pandas in captivity, to a very high success rate at that.
There are a number of different enclosures, all housing different age groups of Pandas. The first one we came to we watched four pandas having a good morning play. We found out that actually these four pandas were the oldest, 15 - 17 years old, they have at the centre (an average Panda lives till they are about 18) and the behaviour we were watching was a very rare treat. We also were able to see juvenile pandas (averaging 1.5 - 4 years old) doing a favourite pass time - eating and also the young cub enclosure - where you could tell the name of the game day in and day out
was fun, fun, fun.
The centre was very well run, presented and laid out, we did not feel we were visiting a zoo but a well worthwhile project. At present it covers 38 hectares, which they are hoping to expand to 200 hectares in the near future, with developing their already popular research centre and also more and larger enclosures to cope with the increasing numbers of pandas.
A very interesting documentary was being shown about Giant Pandas, where we watched the experience of a young first time mother giving birth, it just shot out (really) and it scared the mother just as much as the camera man and others witnessing the birth. Even though the undeveloped yearling (when it comes out of the mother it is pink, its eyes and ears are not developed and well it looks nothing like a panda but gradually over the coming weeks and months, this soon changes with the help of the mother's attention and care) cries out to the mother, most do not know what to do with it if this is their first, so a lot hit the little thing around to make it stop crying out or crush
it. This is where the researchers come in and try and save the little thing by taking it away from the mother before introducing it back to her once she has calmed down. Gemma was amazed how successful it was that yearlings taken away from mothers were introduced and accepted back even though they had been touched by humans. Something that does not happen very often in nature, but we guess this is a feature that helps breeding pandas in captivity work.
Other little things worth mentioning about this visit was the impressive display we got from one peacock who wanted a little of the attention and so spread out its feathers and did a little song and dance for us. In addition to the Giant Pandas there is also the smaller, and funnily enough not directly related, Red Panda, who well look more like a racoon than a bear. We had a special moment with one red panda, when we visited an enclosure that was advertised as probably not likely to see the animals as they were pregnant however a sneak look rewarded us with an inquisitive little face popping up in front of us to give us
a look back.
It is estimated that there are only 1000 Giant Panda’s left in this world, with about 20% in captivity, even though they have survived on this land for 4 million years. We both remember the many campaigns that we saw on television (Blue Peter comes to mind again), headed by the World Wildlife Federation as well as at school about endangered animals including Giant Panda and the African Elephant. It seems the elephants only really needed to be left alone (as in not poached and given a little space). Whereas the Panda has never really moved off the endangered list. This might have something to do with the sensitive conditions Pandas only mate in - the mate has to be “Mr or Mrs Right” and for selective solitary animals this can be hard to come across in one life time, they only give birth once a year and the success rate of a baby reaching 1 month is very low. Lets hope centres like Chengdu carry on doing the fantastic work they are doing so that our kids can see a Panda not just in a picture of a once great, much loved and admired animal.
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